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A Tale of Two Pesukim

By: Rav Ari Shames

I would like to dedicate this shiur to the memory of my dear father Chaim Mordechai ben Yaakov z”l whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday 26 Nissan.

The Gemara at the very end of the 8th perek of Brachot explains a verse and derives various halachot from each phrase:

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“You should sanctify” - this refers to the water we use to wash before eating.

“You should be holy” -  this refers to the water we use to wash after eating, before birkat hamazon (mayim achronim).

“Because I am holy” - refers to the oil (that was used also as a cleansing agent after eating)

“I am your God” - this refers to Birkat Hamazon

The Gemara is teaching us the stages surrounding a meal which we use to raise up the level of our eating to the state of a holy interaction.

If we take a look at the margin of the gemara we see that the Torah Or, who provides the source for all scriptural references mentioned in the gemara, notes that the verse is from Vayikra Chapter 20 (passuk 7). That is a passuk from Parshat Kedoshim, which would make this shiur a few weeks premature. However, I think that the passuk referred to in this gemara may actually be a different passuk, one from our parsha, Shmini (I was thrilled to see the comments of the Torah Temimah who make a similar argument).

There are two reasons that I am suspect of the reference in Kedoshim. Firstly the words do not exactly match. The pasuk in 20:7 reads:

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Of the four clauses quoted in the gemara, this passuk is missing the third one.

On a more substantial level I think that the message of Parshat Kedoshim is very different than the message in the gemara, and the gemara message a better match for Parshat Shmini.

Parshat Kedoshim is a puzzle. In it, we are presented with a wide variety of mitzvoth of all shapes, sizes and categories. The section is both introduced and summarized with the instruction to be holy, as is God Himself. Despite the variance of the mitzvoth listed I think we can comfortably say that the list contains a large proportion of interpersonal mitzvoth; mitzvoth that mandate moral, ethical behaviour, honesty and a tremendous amount of good social advice. To be put simply Parshat Kedoshim puts a strong emphasis on being a mensch (I am not aware of a good English word that captures the scope and feeling of this Yiddish term).

According to Parshat Kedoshim one must be holy and the way to do so requires strong moral conviction and healthy interaction with those that surround us. This is a very human manifestation of holiness. This cannot be accomplished by angels and is very much in line with much of the general universal principles of the philosophy of living in a society.

It is hard to see how the intricacies of washing before and after meals fit into this.

There is a similar pasuk in our parsha (Vayikra 11:44) that reads:

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In this case we have all four clauses, however not in the order that the gemara quoted them.

The context of this passuk, however, is much more relevant to the lesson of the gemara.

The end of our parsha details the halachot of which animals we can and cannot eat, which items generate ritual impurity and how to purify ourselves if we have become impure. Here, as well, we are introduced to these halachot in terms of holiness. However, this time it is a very different concept. It is all about the individual interacting with himself and the world around him in terms of a mysterious system of purity and impurity. The system is not detectable to human measurement or rationale. I become holy by avoiding certain foods or avoiding coming in contact with certain things, none of which do we understand at all. In our parsha holiness is to surrender to God’s will and set of rules. When I pass the non-kosher section of the meat counter in any given supermarket, I am making a statement regarding my allegiance to the Torah given to us by God Himself!

So we have two very different concepts of kedusha, the rationale-mensch type and the non- rationale- mystical type.

When we sit down to eat a meal, even by ourselves, we are challenged to conduct ourselves with holiness. Eating is a very basic human need, or more precisely a very basic animal need. If we simply eat what we want, how we want, we are falling way short of our mission as those created in God’s image. Our menu must match the requirements of our parsha and the manner in which we eat must be elevated to service of God by netilat yadayim, a purifying of our hands.

Rav Kook explains that even if, when we approach our meal, we are able to fulfil this tall order and frame our animalistic behaviour in terms of holiness by washing prior to eating, the very act of eating drags us back to earth, requiring the second washing to enable us to say birkat hamazon. (This is his explanation of mayim achronim that goes beyond the practical rationale of dangerous salt that was liable to remain on ones hands.)

When the Rambam decided to include the volume of Kedusha in his Mishne Torah he included items that run on a similar theme. He includes in that volume prohibited foods and prohibited sexual relations. Precisely in the areas that are so basic and mundane we are charged with the challenge to sanctify them and infuse them with meaning and holiness.

Both forms of kedusha are critical to form the entire individual and the nation in to a truly holy people. 

Shabbat shalom.

 

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